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Charitable Smiles aims to help bridge gap for thousands with poor dental care

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – William Warfield can’t stop staring at his brand new set of pearly whites.

“I like them!” William exclaimed looking in the mirror. “I like them a lot! It’s going to be nice to eat everything.”

For years,  William never could’ve imagined opening his mouth wide to smile or laugh.

“You don’t have to worry about, ‘Oh, can people see my broken teeth?” said William about smiling with his dentures.

A couple months ago, William was in a lot of pain, with teeth rotting in his mouth. A lot of sodas and poor dental hygiene as a kid, he felt, forced his top teeth out at an early age and left few viable ones on the bottom.

“They got me in right away because I’d been dealing with both sides of my bottom teeth were just killing me,” said Warfield. “They pulled that tooth out, I think that day. And then, I went home and then I called them again because my other side started hurting again.”

In the end, the dentist at Clarity Dentistry on Indianapolis’ southside, felt Warfield could benefit from extracting all his bottom teeth and replacing them with dentures.

Without those teeth, William would join the thousands of other Hoosiers without a single natural tooth.

At last count, almost 30 percent of Hoosiers over 65 don’t have a single natural tooth left. That number climbs even higher when considering all adults.

And nearly 50 percent of Indiana adults have had at least some permanent teeth extracted.

Together, they earn Indiana the 11th spot out of all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico for necessary adult extractions.

Pulling the teeth is what William needed. But disabled after three neck surgeries, the man who easily paid for top dentures a decade ago, couldn’t even afford to extract more than two of the teeth he had left.

The dentist made a call to a new central Indiana organization, Charitable Smiles. The founder, Jake Skelton, stepped up to pay Clarity Dentistry to extract the teeth and give him new dentures on the top and bottom instead.

But Skelton didn’t expect William to pass up the offer for his wife.

“My wife, she only had four or five teeth on the bottom left, so I asked her if they could just do her because I can live with what teeth I had left,” said William.

Fifteen minutes later, Clarity Dentistry called back to say both of them would be getting new teeth.

Wednesday afternoon, both left their final appointments for the new dentures with the idea that the dental work may have changed their lives.

“I won’t be so self-conscious anymore,” said Melisa Warfield, William’s wife. “Hopefully, it will help my confidence. That way I can maybe get a job I really want.”

Besides the self-esteem boost and potential for new job opportunities, Skelton says the impact on health can’t be overlooked.

“More studies are coming out that an infection in your mouth leads to other ailments throughout your whole body,” said Skelton.

Not only can infections spread or cause damage to other parts of the body, not being able to physically chew healthy foods is also damaging.

“We’ve had patients who say, ‘Do you know what it’s like to eat a salad with no teeth?’” remembered Skelton. “And it’s like, no, no we don’t, but how can you stay healthy, you know, your whole body, if you can’t chew food?”

Skelton is happy to help people like the Warfields, but also wants to be able to help people before their teeth have to go. Charitable Smiles gets people help at the dentist they choose right away.

Instead of forcing dentists to figure out when or if they can squeeze a pro bono patient in with paying patients, Skelton pays them for their services. Then, they make sure people can maintain access to the dentists after the initial, emergency treatments are complete.

The state, hospitals and patients save money and people are able to get and keep their smiles.

“Even if we help just one person, it’s like worth all the effort, it’s a success,” said Skelton.

But Skelton acknowledges he’d like to do more. He’s calling on people, especially those who have had dental pain and could afford treatments to think of how they could help others.

“If you’re fortunate enough to have the means to get treatment and to get it taken care of, so you’re not in pain anymore, put yourself  in someone’s shoes, that is trying to do the right thing  that is a good person and a good family,” said Skelton.